Monthly Archives: June 2015

Tuesday, 30 June – Jesus My Hero

30 June – First Martyrs of the See of Rome

When the city of Rome had been devastated by fire in the year 64, the Emperor Nero launched a persecution against the Christians, who were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena or soaked in tar and used as living torches. Their deaths are documented in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus and in Pope St Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. Their feast was celebrated the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

– Universalis

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Genesis 19:15-29

The angels urged Lot, ‘Come, take your wife and these two daughters of yours, or you will be overwhelmed in the punishment of the town.’ And as he hesitated, the men took him by the hand, and his wife and his two daughters, because of the pity the Lord felt for him. They led him out and left him outside the town.

As they were leading him out he said, ‘Run for your life. Neither look behind you nor stop anywhere on the plain. Make for the hills if you would not be overwhelmed.’ ‘No, I beg you, my lord,’ Lot said to them ‘your servant has won your favour and you have shown great kindness to me in saving my life. But I could not reach the hills before this calamity overtook me, and death with it. The town over there is near enough to flee to, and is a little one. Let me make for that – is it not little? – and my life will be saved.’ He answered, ‘I grant you this favour too, and will not destroy the town you speak of. Hurry, escape to it, for I can do nothing until you reach it.’ That is why the town is named Zoar.

As the sun rose over the land and Lot entered Zoar, the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord. He overthrew these towns and the whole plain, with all the inhabitants of the towns, and everything that grew there. But the wife of Lot looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Rising early in the morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood before the Lord, and looking towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and across all the plain, he saw the smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

Thus it was that when God destroyed the towns of the plain, he kept Abraham in mind and rescued Lot out of disaster when he overwhelmed the towns where Lot lived.

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Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus got into the boat followed by his disciples. Without warning a storm broke over the lake, so violent that the waves were breaking right over the boat. But he was asleep. So they went to him and woke him saying, ‘Save us, Lord, we are going down!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?’ And with that he stood up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and all was calm again. The men were astounded and said, ‘Whatever kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him.’

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Even the winds and the sea obey him

I was driving after work one evening when a huge tropical storm erupted. It rained down so heavily that visibility was reduced because of the pelting rain. Soon afterwards, the wind blew fiercely and caused the barriers at construction sites to be flung on the road in disarray, with some even flying ferociously in front of oncoming traffic.

I was a little terrified and starting praying while continuing to drive. I was aware of the potential danger of being on the road at the time but I knew that God was with me on that journey.

Our Heavenly Father is much like a parent who deserves trust and we His children are called to trust Him even while we are sick, suffering, unemployed, confused, depressed, angry, hurting, persecuted and even abused. Whatever our storm is, we His children need to trust that He will save us, just like how He put on hold His plans of destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah so that Lot and his family would be saved. Our Lord will definitely do everything and anything to save us because there is no doubt that He has our best interests at heart.

If today we are consumed by self-pity, entrenched with fear or crippled by our lack of trust in the God who saves us, let’s have an instant change of heart and mind. Today, let us assume the obedience of Lot and Abraham that despite their trials continued to trust God and were men of steadfast faith.

If even the seas obey Him and we are His, what is expected of us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, our Father, create in us a heart of total trust in You. No matter what we are facing today, we know that You care for us and love us. Help us to have faith in You even when we feel that we are down in the pits.

Thanksgiving: Daddy God, thank you for saving us even if we don’t trust You completely.

Monday, 29 June – Fathers of Faith

29 June – Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Saint Paul, Apostle

Jewish Talmudic student. Pharisee. Tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of Saint Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest another group of faithful, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptized, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling, preaching and teaching. His letters to the churches he help found form a large percentage of the New Testament. Knew and worked with many of the earliest saints and fathers of the Church. Martyr.

Saint Peter, Apostle

Professional fisherman. Brother of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the man who led him to Christ. Apostle. Renamed “Peter” (rock) by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built. Bishop. First Pope. Miracle worker.

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 12:1-11

King Herod started persecuting certain members of the Church. He beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread, and he put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turns. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.

On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly the angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said ‘Hurry!’ – and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ Peter followed him, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through two guard posts one after the other, and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him. It was only then that Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is all true’ he said. ‘The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.’

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2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18

My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

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On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.

The church that we are familiar with faces many trials and is challenged constantly by the powers of the netherworld. Yet it stands strong more than 2000 years later. This is the promise of Christ when He appointed St Peter as the first pope and shepherd of the Church. He entrusted Him the duty to shepherd His folk, to forgive sins and to gain admittance to His children to our heavenly homes.

As Catholics, we are privileged and called to be part of this beautiful Body of Christ in the Church. Our religion is universal and our faith is founded by the Lord Himself, the Christ and Son of the Living God and carried upon generations starting from our forefathers, St Peters and Paul, who endured much persecution to the point of death so that we would have this faith we love today.

Today, who would we say Jesus is? If, like St Peter, we consider Him as the Christ and the Son of the living God, than what is our stand about our faith and our Church? Can we withstand the persecution of our times on same sex marriages, pro-choice movements and other lies that have diminished the beauty of perfect love as shown by our Lord during His crucifixion? Can we uphold the promise of our Lord that this Church will prevail by being faithful to the teachings of the Church and by recognising Papal Infallibility, our priests who are in the person and spirit of Christ, especially when they administer the sacraments, but also when they lead their parish and ministry? Are we still obedient to Jesus who said “Behold thy Mother”?

Just as a mission has been given to Saints Peter and Paul, we each have a mission in the church, in its building, its restoration and its continuity.

I was deeply saddened to hear news of churches which have been turned into amusement parks and bars and also being denied the permission to set up within a community. In Malaysia, we attend Sunday mass in churches which are overflowing with worshippers. Some years back, a survey revealed that 70% of Catholics attend Sunday mass. Though it may seem like an encouraging number, most of us know of friends and relatives who are no longer in union with the church and who choose to frequent mass on selected days. What are we doing to encourage each other who share our faith? Are we welcoming enough to offer rides, to greet each other warmly in church and to give others a reason to come to church to pray together and celebrate being One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Who is Jesus to you today? Do your actions reflect this?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Today we especially ask you to bless Papa Francisco, our bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders, give them the zeal of the first Christians and give us also Lord that same zeal. Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: Father, we thank you for all those who have fought the fight to keep our faith alive. Thank you for choosing us.

Sunday, 28 June – Talitha Kaum

28 June

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Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24

Death was not God’s doing,
he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living.
To be – for this he created all;
the world’s created things have health in them,
in them no fatal poison can be found,
and Hades holds no power on earth;
for virtue is undying.
Yet God did make man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.

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2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15

You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short.

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Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

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He continued to look all round to see who had done it

I was not feeling too well some time ago as I had been laid down by a fever and cold. Even tough my condition improved, I kept coughing for a few nights and felt that I had not fully recovered. But after a few days, I realised that this was just a ‘pattern’ and in the morning, I always felt better. It was much like what is said by the psalmist today “at nightfall weeping enters in, but with dawn the rejoicing.” And because I was just recovering from the illness, it was easy for me to claim His healing.

In today’s reading, we hear of the woman who has been suffering for years and who, despite the hopelessness of her situation, continued to seek out doctors until the day she reached out for the cloak of Jesus. We also read about the parents of the sick child who was at death’s door, and who also sought out Jesus in a crowd despite all the ridicule from their friends and family.

What is Jesus asking us to rise up from today? Is it a bleeding from our wounds caused by hurts and anger which we have carried for years? Is it our action or lack of it to seek Him to restore areas in our lives which are dead? Is it the lack of faith on our part in the promises of our perfect God? Is it our anxiety to conform to society and to heed those who ridicule the hope we have, that we will be healed and our prayers will be answered? Is it our idolatry of all things secular – beauty, popularity, wealth and intelligence?

The woman and the parents in today’s Gospel reading did something that was ahead of their time. The woman, considered an outcast in the Jewish culture at that time, because she was ‘unclean’, fought herself through the crowd despite her illness to touch the cloak of a Holy Man. It was definitely an act which was met with disapproval from society and even her family. And imagine as a parent, leaving the side of your dying child to seek the healing of a ‘healer’.  What is God asking of us today to do, so that we can live in His truth and to claim the wholesomeness which He had intended for each of us from the time of creation?

Is there a bleeding lady within us, a habit that is causing us to die? Let us let go and reach out to Him; not just His cloak but in His whole being through the Eucharist we receive today. Let us claim the healing and assume unwavering faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord give us faith that never ends. Give us whatever it takes to seek you in all that we lack so that we receive your abundance.

Thanksgiving: O Lord, you are a healer. You changed my mourning into dancing and you renew me every morning.

Saturday, 27 June – Stories

27 June – St Cyril of Alexandria

Alexandria was the largest city in the ancient world. Rather like Los Angeles, it was a sprawling mixture of races and creeds; and it was a byword for the violence of its sectarian politics, whether of Greeks against Jews or of orthodox Christians against heretics. Cyril began his career as a worthy follower of this tradition. He succeeded his uncle as bishop of Alexandria in 412, and promptly solved a number of outstanding problems by closing the churches of the Novatian heretics and expelling the Jews from the city. This caused trouble and led to an ongoing quarrel with the Imperial governor of the city and to murderous riots. It is not for this part of his life that St Cyril is celebrated.

In 428, Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople (and hence one of the most important bishops in the world) made statements that could be interpreted as denying the divinity of Christ. The dual nature – human and divine – has always been hard for us to accept or understand, and if it seems easy it is only because we have not thought about it properly. Those who dislike problems have had two responses: to deny the human nature of Christ or to deny his divinity: and either leads to disaster, since both deny the Incarnation and hence the divinisation of human nature.

The resulting battle was as unedifying as most of the early fights that defined the shape of Christianity, because both sides were concerned to defend something that they saw as being of infinite and eternal importance. If it had been a question of power politics, of who got what post and what revenues, the matter could have been settled quietly – but this was not about power, it was important, and the victory was more important than the methods. Seen from fifteen centuries later, the proceedings seem melodramatic and absurd: Cyril arriving at the Council of Ephesus accompanied by fifty bishops wielding baseball bats (or the fifth-century equivalent); the Emperor, burdened with a sister who supported Cyril and a wife who supported Nestorius; the ratification of the contradictory decrees of both the council that supported Cyril andthe council that supported Nestorius; the imprisonment of both bishops; the bribery…

To revere Cyril of Alexandria is not to approve the methods he used: he fought according to the conventions of the time, and with its weapons. But he never sought to destroy Nestorius or any of his opponents, only to win the day for the truth of salvation: would that controversies today were fought with such pure motives.

After the fireworks of the Council, Cyril was moderate and conciliatory, and sought to reconcile to the Church any Nestorians who were willing to engage in dialogue. It is largely through his efforts that we can celebrate (even if we still fail to understand) the two natures of Christ, and that we can address Mary as “Mother of God”. It is as a theologian rather than as a politician that Cyril is honoured.

So let us give thanks that Cyril lived, and let us enjoy the fruits of his achievement; but although we ought all to share his pure zeal for the truth, let us not hurry to imitate his more vigorous methods!

– Universalis

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Genesis 18:1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre while he was sitting by the entrance of the tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, and bowed to the ground. ‘My lord,’ he said ‘I beg you, if I find favour with you, kindly do not pass your servant by. A little water shall be brought; you shall wash your feet and lie down under the tree. Let me fetch a little bread and you shall refresh yourselves before going further. That is why you have come in your servant’s direction.’ They replied, ‘Do as you say.’

Abraham hastened to the tent to find Sarah.’ ‘Hurry,’ he said ‘knead three bushels of flour and make loaves.’ Then running to the cattle Abraham took a fine and tender calf and gave it to the servant, who hurried to prepare it. Then taking cream, milk and the calf he had prepared, he laid all before them, and they ate while he remained standing near them under the tree.

‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘She is in the tent’ he replied. Then his guest said, ‘I shall visit you again next year without fail, and your wife will then have a son.’ Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years, and Sarah had ceased to have her monthly periods. So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, ‘Now that I am past the age of child-bearing, and my husband is an old man, is pleasure to come my way again!’ But the Lord asked Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Am I really going to have a child now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the same time next year I shall visit you again and Sarah will have a son.’ ‘I did not laugh’ Sarah said, lying because she was afraid. But he replied, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

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Matthew 8:5-17

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom will be turned out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go back, then; you have believed, so let this be done for you.’ And the servant was cured at that moment.

And going into Peter’s house Jesus found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

That evening they brought him many who were possessed by devils. He cast out the spirits with a word and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah:

He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us.

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You have believed, so let this be done for you

The stories from today’s readings are all examples of faith in action. Faith lets us see through different eyes, as if the scales of skepticism are removed and we perceive with a more trusting and open heart. Last night I was at a faith meeting. I am usually a little apprehensive about going to these things. Most of the time, I try to put it off because I don’t like the feeling of vulnerability that comes from opening up to a roomful of strangers. The fault lies with me completely. So I sit in a corner, arms folded across my chest and just listen, attempting all the while to suspend my wordly skepticism. I want to be supportive of my faith sisters, and I am hoping my disbelief isn’t obvious. Very often I struggle with the right response. So I simply listen and hope the Holy Spirit will pry the scales from my eyes so I can ‘see’.

We are all made for stories, that is how the human race communicates truths – through sharing stories. To listen to someone’s story and to allow that truth into our hearts requires us to give ourselves over to wonder. Very often, we will not be able to identify with their circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to apply the truth that God is trying to teach us. Who will really know if Sarah had a baby in her nineties? The truth of her story though is not so much that she was blessed with motherhood, but that she, like us, did the very human thing of faltering and finding her way again. She vacillated, as we would have done, between faith and disbelief. And through the long years of waiting, she did the very human thing of trying to sort it out for herself. Though her efforts were met with mixed results — eventually she grew cynical and resigned herself to her childlessness — the truth in Sarah’s story is that God did not give up on her, even though she might have felt that He had.

I’m waiting for God to answer a prayer at the moment. I have to admit, my attempts at prayer have been somewhat half-hearted, as if I am afraid to even ask this of Him. It’s such a ‘practical life issue’, but isnt’t that when God truly surprises us? By showing us resolutions to practical life issues? Last night, He compelled me to go to a faith meeting; something I rarely do. There I was reminded of how His hand works in the lives of others, how the concept of ‘Time’ for God is both a lot slower and a lot quicker than what we think. And though this morning, a cloud of anxiety still hangs over me, I am comforted by that it is normal to have this human condition of faltering. He still ‘sees’ me – even if I struggle to ‘see’ Him. And He will help me hold on to Hope while I wait, just as He has with so many others before me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray that God will help us to hold on to Hope, that we not grow discouraged from the waiting.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who are courageous enough to share their faith stories, that we too may share in the truths that God has shown them.

Friday, 26 June – Purpose

26 June

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Genesis 17:1,9-10,15-22

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am El Shaddai. Bear yourself blameless in my presence, and I will make a Covenant between myself and you. You on your part shall maintain my Covenant, yourself and your descendants after you, generation after generation. Now this is my Covenant which you are to maintain between myself and you, and your descendants after you: all your males must be circumcised.’

God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah. I will bless her and moreover give you a son by her. I will bless her and nations shall come out of her; kings of peoples shall descend from her.’ Abraham bowed to the ground, and he laughed, thinking to himself, ‘Is a child to be born to a man one hundred years old, and will Sarah have a child at the age of ninety?’ Abraham said to God, ‘Oh, let Ishmael live in your presence!’ But God replied, ‘No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son whom you are to name Isaac. With him I will establish my Covenant, a Covenant in perpetuity, to be his God and the God of his descendants after him. For Ishmael too I grant you your request: I bless him and I will make him fruitful and greatly increased in numbers. He shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But my Covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear you at this time next year.’ When he had finished speaking to Abraham God went up from him.

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Matthew 8:1-4

After Jesus had come down from the mountain large crowds followed him. A leper now came up and bowed low in front of him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘if you want to, you can cure me.’ Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said, ‘Of course I want to! Be cured!’ And his leprosy was cured at once. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Mind you do not tell anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest and make the offering prescribed by Moses, as evidence for them.’

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If you want to, you can cure me

The whole concept of having a child is a difficult one for me. My parents gave me a charmed upbringing, the kind of childhood I would want for my own offspring. They gave us the life they had wanted for themselves. Every generation wants to do right by the one after it. We want to pass on the gift of parenthood that we ourselves received. As the years go by though, the odds of me giving this wonderful gift myself have begun to diminish. And while today, there are ample opportunities for women to find fulfilment outside of motherhood, the fear of missing out on one of life’s great events hangs like a cloud over me. Am I making the right decisions? Is this part of God’s purpose? Did I choose the right path? You constantly second guess yourself and wonder whether you have misread the signs.

Having uprooted his family and staked his purpose on being the father of many, that they were still childless twenty four years on must have caused Abram and Sarai much grief. From his perspective, Abram must have felt that he had angered God somewhere, that his life had been a failure. And Sarai would have shared that sense of failure with him, for all that she had tried to do with Hagar, Ishmael and surrogacy. She would have felt, as a woman, that she had not just failed herself, she had failed those that God had entrusted her with – her husband, her maidservant and the innocent child that Hagar had borne her husband. As a woman living in those times, to have to be defined like that would have been emotionally wrenching.

So often in Scripture, ‘failure’ and ‘imperfection’ are used as vehicles for His greatest work. God seeks out the lost, the failed, those who have given their best efforts yet fallen short; those who feel like life has beaten them, that they have made so many mistakes they can’t possibly find their way back. He seeks them out and gives them new life, new purpose – “Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matt 8:17)! A leper is healed and made clean. A man, well beyond his parenting years becomes father to a multitude. And a woman, resigned to her own failure, bears the seed that fulfils His great promise despite her circumstances. “Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10) – because I derive my strength from Him. Look to Him if today you feel lost. Place your hope in Him. There is purpose here, even if you can’t see it. Place your trust in Him. 

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the endurance to keep holding on to Hope, despite difficult circumstances.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His redeeming love, for His capacity to create new life from failure, for how He brings purpose where we ourselves see none. 

Thursday, 25 June – Deliverance

25 June

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Genesis 16:1-12,15-16

Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no child, but she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Listen, now! Since the Lord has kept me from having children, go to my slave-girl. Perhaps I shall get children through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai had said.

Thus after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan for ten years Sarai took Hagar her Egyptian slave-girl and gave her to Abram as his wife. He went to Hagar and she conceived. And once she knew she had conceived, her mistress counted for nothing in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘May this insult to me come home to you! It was I who put my slave-girl into your arms but now she knows that she has conceived, I count for nothing in her eyes. Let the Lord judge between me and you.’ ‘Very well,’ Abram said to Sarai ‘your slave-girl is at your disposal. Treat her as you think fit.’ Sarai accordingly treated her so badly that she ran away from her.

The angel of the Lord met her near a spring in the wilderness, the spring that is on the road to Shur. He said, ‘Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I am running away from my mistress Sarai’ she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will make your descendants too numerous to be counted.’ Then the angel of the Lord said to her:

‘Now you have conceived, and you will bear a son,
and you shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard your cries of distress.
A wild-ass of a man he will be,
against every man, and every man against him,
setting himself to defy all his brothers.’

Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave to the son that Hagar bore the name Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

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Matthew 7:21-29

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!

‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, and not like their own scribes.

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It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven

Today’s first reading from Genesis shows what happens when we try to be too clever and take matters into our own hands instead of waiting on God. Inevitably, someone gets hurt and in our anger and frustration, we become lesser versions of ourselves. By this time, Abram and Sarai had been living in Canaan for ten years, long enough now to have established themselves in the community, and maybe even pick up some of the local traditions. Sarah’s suggestion of ‘surrogacy’ could have been turned down by Abram but he went along with it. No one will know why God let Abram and Sarai wait this long for Isaac. But the waiting evidently took its toll on them, because they acted out according to the flesh.

God’s benevolence extends to us even when we make mistakes. We know that Abram and Sarai are able to regroup from this, and do eventually go on to have a child as promised by God. And instead of leaving Hagar and Ishmael to perish in the desert, God tells Hagar that he will sustain her and promises to make Ishmael a great nation. Even in the Old Testament, God approaches man first and offers him forgiveness in his broken state; so that man, having healed, can look ahead, renewed and refreshed to do His will.

Mistakes will happen even to the best of us. It’s difficult to remain unwavering when that occurs, especially when no end is in sight. It is exactly at times like these that God wants us to cleave to Him. He is our source of hope. Deliverance comes from the Lord, not from us trying to sort our issues out with brute strength. Like the house built on rock, we will remain firm through the storms of life if God is our foundation. Time can pass but we will persevere, because all things are possible through The Lord. He is our deliverance.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who have fallen away because of mistakes they have made; no one is beyond His grace and mercy.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His mercies, that while we were a broken and sinful people, he redeemed us and gave us new life.

Wednesday, 24 June – Joy

24 June – Solemnity of St John the Baptist (Mass During the Day)

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Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

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Acts 13:22-26

Paul said: ‘God deposed Saul and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”

‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you.’

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Luke 1:57-66,80

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.

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I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing’ and all the while my cause was with the Lord, my reward with my God.

The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that there is a big difference between ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’. Yes, I’ve been slow to the game. I’ve chased happiness all this time – fleeting, temporal, material – all the while, mistaking it for joy. What a lot of time I’ve wasted! What a lot of life I’ve frittered away.

George Bernard Shaw described the joy of life as “being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy”. Joy is about putting ourselves out there for something greater than the sum of our being. It’s about finding a higher purpose beyond ourselves. Why did John the Baptist not try to compete with Jesus? After all, he had established a following first and done the hard work of preparing the people. When Jesus arrived on the scene, the people were already ‘primed’ so that Jesus was able to hit the ground running, so to speak. Yet John never held resentment in his being. Rather, he bowed out gracefully saying, “behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals on his feet”

John was able to rise above the petty grievances because his joy was anchored in fulfiling God’s purpose for him. He had run his course. He had prepared the way, just as God had destined him to do. There was no need for him to conduct a census of how many people he had baptised nor how many he had called to the faith. The point was that they had been called, and they had heeded his call. John correctly recognized that this earthly life is but our first act. We need to remind ourselves as well, that the work we put in here may not bear fruit for us to reap until our second act – when we’re back in our Father’s house. Let’s place our hope in that – because therein lies joy everlasting.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all caregivers and educators, the brave men and women who work tirelessly and often with little thanks, to give someone else a life of dignity. May they receive their just rewards, both here and in the next life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who bear the role of caregivers. God bless them with patience, strength, endurance, hope and joy.

Wednesday, 24 June – Thy Will Be Done

24 June – Solemnity of St John the Baptist (Vigil)

Apart from Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist is the only saint in the calendar who has two feasts to himself. One, in August, celebrates his death, and one, in June, celebrates his birth. And this is as it should be, for as Christ himself said, John was the greatest of the sons of men.

The greatest, but also the most tragic. A prophet from before his birth, leaping in the womb to announce the coming of the incarnate God, his task was to proclaim the fulfilment of all prophecies – and thus his own obsolescence. And he did it: with unequalled courage he spread the news that he, the greatest of all men, was the least in the kingdom of heaven. His disciples, and the devil, would have preferred him to fight, to build his sect, to defeat this upstart whom he himself had baptized, to seize his place in history. But he did not – and so, rightly, he has his place, and he has glory in heaven.

We envy the great and the talented, and sometimes we think that they themselves are beyond envy. But when they come across someone with greater gifts, as one day most of them will, they will see for the first time what it means to feel like us. Let us pray that they, like John the Baptist, may pass that test.

-Universalis

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Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.’
I said, ‘Ah, Lord; look, I do not know how to speak: I am a child!’
But the Lord replied,
‘Do not say, “I am a child.”
Go now to those to whom I send you
and, say whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to protect you –
it is the Lord who speaks!’

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me:
‘There! I am putting my words into your mouth.
Look, today I am setting you
over nations and over kingdoms,
to tear up and to knock down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

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1 Peter 1:8-12

You did not see Jesus Christ, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

It was this salvation that the prophets were looking and searching so hard for; their prophecies were about the grace which was to come to you. The Spirit of Christ which was in them foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would come after them, and they tried to find out at what time and in what circumstances all this was to be expected. It was revealed to them that the news they brought of all the things which have now been announced to you, by those who preached to you the Good News through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, was for you and not for themselves. Even the angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.

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Luke 1:5-17

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.

Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside, praying.

Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’

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Go now to those to whom I send you and, say whatever I command you.

I’ve been asking God a lot this year to help me find my purpose. The reality of it though, is that He has shown me what it is, but I’m struggling to accept that this is the road I must walk. What about what I want?! Doesn’t that count? And even as I speak it, I realize how strange it must all sound to Him. I ask Him to show me the way and when He does, instead of being grateful, I say ‘But wait, no, I don’t really like how this sounds. What about me, what about what I want? Doesn’t what I want matter?’

John the Baptist’s life isn’t one we would consider a ‘success’ if we measured it against the yardstick of conventional human achievement. He lived a hermetic life on the fringes of civilization. He wore wild clothes, foraged for his food. And though he inspired a following with his message of baptism and repentance, his ministry was eventually eclipsed by Jesus’. In the end, he died a gruesome death, at the hands of a foolish king and his vain daughter. Yet here was a man at whose birth, the angels declared, “… many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord”. This isn’t ‘greatness’ as we would know it, is it? Not in the conventional sense of the word at least.

When we ask God to show us His purpose for us, very often the answer surprises us and not always in a positive way. When that happens, it is important to remember that God doesn’t judge a purposeful life the same way we do. Not for Him the accolades and awards of achievement. Instead, He wants a contrite and humble heart, a heart willing to be led even into the desert, to the fringes of humanity. A heart that says ‘I do, despite my reservations because I trust you, Lord’. And our reward? Life everlasting with Him. Maybe what I should be praying for instead, is the courage and humility to say, ‘Let Thy will be done’ – and the endurance that is needed to follow through on it.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who are searching for their vocation and their purpose. We pray for the Holy Spirit to quieten their internal turmoil so that they may hear His quiet voice deep within.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks that God loves us despite all of the bad decisions we have made.

Tuesday, 23 June – No Brainer Decisions

23 June

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Genesis 13:2,5-18

Abram was a very rich man, with livestock, silver and gold. Lot, who was travelling with Abram, had flocks and cattle of his own, and tents too. The land was not sufficient to accommodate them both at once, for they had too many possessions to be able to live together. Dispute broke out between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and those of Lot’s. (The Canaanites and the Perizzites were then living in the land.) Accordingly Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no dispute between me and you, nor between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me: if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.’

Looking round, Lot saw all the Jordan plain, irrigated everywhere – this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah – like the garden of the Lord or the land of Egypt, as far as Zoar. So Lot chose all the Jordan plain for himself and moved off eastwards. Thus they parted company: Abram settled in the land of Canaan; Lot settled among the towns of the plain, pitching his tents on the outskirts of Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were vicious men, great sinners against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted company with him, ‘Look all round from where you are towards the north and the south, towards the east and the west. All the land within sight I will give to you and your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants like the dust on the ground: when men succeed in counting the specks of dust on the ground, then they will be able to count your descendants! Come, travel through the length and breadth of the land, for I mean to give it to you.’

So Abram went with his tents to settle at the Oak of Mamre, at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

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Matthew 7:6,12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.

‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.

‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’

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It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Some years have now passed since Lot and Abraham’s epic journey from Haran. They’ve adjusted and assimilated themselves into their new surroundings and grown wealthy in livestock, silver and gold. Life has just started to get comfortable again. Abraham and Lot could have just coasted along at this point. Except that every time we become comfortable or complacent, life events happen to derail us and throw off our balance – death, divorce, children, illness, economic meltdowns are all change agents. For Abraham, change arrived in the form of depleting resources and labor unrest.

During the time of Genesis, pasture land was like fuel. It fed the animals, who provided the people with their means of transportation. Finding well-watered pasture land was the economic equivalent of striking oil in our time. Yet Abraham was willing to cede the green pastures of the Jordan plain to Lot in order to preserve their kinship. And not just that, by giving Lot first dibs on their land, Abraham was stuck with occupied Canaan, land that wasn’t even technically his as yet. He only had the as-yet-unfulfiled promise of the Lord to hold on to. We all know how this story ends, with the Lord’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But most of us would have simply chosen as Lot did. We would have made the ‘no-brainer’ decision of keeping the best resources for ourselves – not Abraham.

The path of least resistance is often the one that leads to our ruin. Think back to all the ‘no-brainer’ decisions that you have made through the years – the job you took for the money only to find that your new workplace was a political snakepit. The investments you made that seemed too good to pass up. All the people you have had relationships with because they were available and it was ‘convenient’. The Gospel warns against taking the easy way out because broad is the road that leads to destruction. With each step along our journey of faith, it is important to ask ourselves does this lead to the road that God would want me to walk? Am I doing this for me or for Him? The Lord doesn’t tell us that the road to Life will be easy. On the contrary, it is the hard road, ‘narrow the gate and constricted the path’. We can walk it in faith though, because like Abraham we know we will find His purpose for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience and the endurance to walk the narrow road to life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who helps us to discern the paths that He wants us to walk.

Monday, 22 June – The Man in the Arena

22 June – St Paulinus of Nola

He was born in Bordeaux, in France, to a rich and powerful family. He was well trained in poetry and rhetoric, and had a successful political career, culminating in the governorship of an Italian province. Returning to France, he married a Spanish lady, who shared with him her ideal of living a strictly evangelical life. He was baptized in 389 and moved to Spain, where after the death of his son he gave away all his property and began to live a monastic style of life. He was ordained in 394, in Barcelona, at the urgent insistence of the people there; but then moved back to Italy, to Nola, in the province of which he had once been governor. There he began to live the monastic life and set up a hospice for the sick and for poor visitors to the shrine of St Felix. He became bishop, by popular request, in about 409, and died some twenty years later.

– Universalis

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The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name so famous that it will be used as a blessing.

‘I will bless those who bless you:
I will curse those who slight you.
All the tribes of the earth
shall bless themselves by you.’

So Abram went as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had amassed and the people they had acquired in Haran. They set off for the land of Canaan, and arrived there.

Abram passed through the land as far as Shechem’s holy place, the Oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘It is to your descendants that I will give this land.’ So Abram built there an altar for the Lord who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the mountainous district east of Bethel, where he pitched his tent, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. Then Abram made his way stage by stage to the Negeb.

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Matthew 7:1-5

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How dare you say to your brother, “Let me take the splinter out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.’

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Abram went as the Lord told him

“Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran”. Though details are scant, Bible scholars estimate the distance from Haran to Shechem at about 600km (400 miles). Journeys back then were done on foot. Horses and donkeys carried the luggage and supplies while the people walked alongside, herding them along. It was slow progress. Imagine at 75, trudging 600km with your entourage across hostile terrain, constantly stressed about finding water sources and sheltered plains to pitch your tents. Imagine battling the heat and the wind, and braving dust storms. Imagine trying to find pasture for your flock and food to feed your family. And then, upon arriving at Shechem, the disappointment of finding it already occupied. Was this God’s promised land?

When we put it in context, the enormity of Abraham’s faith begins to reveal itself. That journey was ostensibly a failure when viewed through the prism of human understanding. He had displaced his tribe and family, to what end? Every endeavour of greatness has, at its root, a grain of madness. Abraham’s great journey foreshadowed Jesus’ own walk of faith, and that of all believers thereafter. Sometimes the journey ends in what seems like failure, but that is only because God sees beyond human understanding. He asks us to measure ourselves not against the yardstick of human wisdom but to base our actions on faith and hope. He wants us to withhold judgment, not just of others, but also of ourselves. Because failure is often God testing our faith, to see if we are ready for Him to open a greater door.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1910.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the fortitude to hold on to our faith in the face of failure.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for loved ones who stick with us through great successes as well as failures.